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School nurses say they need training to prepare for possible terrorist attacks

Saturday, February 19, 2005

If terrorism occurred at a school, nurses could provide care before an EMT arrived.
CORTLAND (AP) -- Long associated with treating playground scrapes and tummy aches, school nurses nationwide say they need to be more prepared for emergencies such as terrorist attacks.
Many are trying to work around tight school budgets and a lack of respect as front-line responders to get the training they need to prepare for the worst.
"Because of 9/11, so many things have changed," said Kathy Steffey, a school nurse at Lakeview High School. "We have to be prepared for almost anything."
Nearly half of the nurses who responded to a National Association of School Nurses survey listed emergency preparedness as their highest priority.
"They're really on the front line before even the EMT person gets there," said Wanda Miller, the association's executive director. "They are the person that has to react, has to be prepared and must have some kind of plan in place to manage the situations that occur."
Lack of nurses
While most nurses are eager to get training, disaster preparedness trainer Deborah Strouse said many schools don't even have a full-time nurse or health services.
Ohio is one of several states that does not require a nurse in every school. A lack of First Aid supplies is another issue, she said.
Schools were recognized as potential terrorist targets long before the seizure of a Russian school in September in which 330 hostages were killed.
Many schools developed disaster plans following the Columbine school shootings or the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but they don't have the funding to train administrators and teachers on how to carry out the plans, said Julie Underwood, general counsel for the National School Boards Association.
"There's a great unmet need for training and additional security," Underwood said.
Columbus Public Schools is an exception. The district is using a $454,000 grant from the Homeland Security Department to train a team of school personnel in each of its 140 schools to respond in an emergency, spokesman Greg Viebranz said.
Counselors, nurses and security personnel are receiving further training in CPR, triage and the use of defibrillators. Training is expected to be completed by the end of the school year.
"We'd like to be considered a model for our efforts," Viebranz said.
Homeland Security funnels grants through state governments and doesn't have an estimate of how much has reached schools, spokesman Marc Short said.
He said it's difficult to give a nationwide assessment of schools' disaster preparedness.
"The answer to that would vary state by state," he said.
Bill Modzeleski, associate deputy undersecretary for the Education Department's office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, said there's still more work to do.
"We've really encouraged schools to look at crisis planning from A to Z. We have to plan for everything," Modzeleski said. "I don't think we should ever be satisfied."
Training program
The National Association of School Nurses, which has about 12,500 members, has developed a disaster preparedness program to meet the demand for training -- more than 2,000 school nurses have participated.
At a session this month in suburban Youngstown, many of the 100 nurses in attendance responded with a collective sigh as Strouse displayed photos of a baby covered with smallpox.
Strouse told the nurses they don't need to know how to treat victims of biological weapons such as smallpox and anthrax, just how to identify early symptoms.
She warned that if there is a bioterrorist attack, school nurses would likely see a pattern of high fever and rashes before students or teachers are sick enough to go to the doctor.
"The school nurse is in a unique position to pick up on trends almost before anyone else does," Strouse said.
The information was new to Steffey, who has been a school nurse for five years. She said she's concerned about responding to a school shooting, hostage situation or terrorist attack.
"You will be the first to respond. You have to be prepared," she said. "You can't wait for 911 to respond in an emergency."